Today’s flag of Vietnam is familiar to veterans of the Vietnam War because it is the same banner that flew over North Vietnamese troops and holdings during that conflict. It features a solid red field with a single gold star, five-pointed, in the center. This flag symbolizes the history of Vietnam’s anti-colonial struggle and its later Communist movement, as well.

The Red and the Gold

The banner first flew in an uprising against the French in 1940. France had ruled Vietnam as part of its Indochinese colony since the 1880s, but in 1945, Ho Chi Minh declared an independent communist state that, by treaty, constituted the northern portion of the former colony. Although sometimes credited to Ho, the flag was actually designed by Nguyen Huu Tien, another revolutionary, who composed a poem that explained its symbolism. The poem, reproduced in an article published by the Vietnamese embassy to the United States, refers to the Vietnamese resistance fighters’ “red blood” and “yellow skin,” the latter distinguishing them from the colonial occupiers; the five points on the star signify the five classes united in their efforts to overthrow the Europeans: intellectuals, peasants, workers, traders and soldiers. The flag continued to signify these same traits of cultural pride and resistance to non-Asian occupiers during the Vietnam War, when the French and Japanese foes mentioned in the poem had been replaced by, chiefly, Americans.